First Saudi Arabian Woman Astronaut Heading to International Space Station this Year
By: Adam Abdel-Qader / Arab America Contributing Writer
In light of and in celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2023, last week, it is paramount to recognize the first Saudi Arabian woman chosen to be a part of the astronaut crew launching aboard the Axiom-2 space mission or better known as Ax-2. The mission is set to occur before or during the summer of 2023, and the team consists of 2 Saudi Arabian astronauts and 2 American astronauts.
This mission’s meaning lies not only in advancing women’s empowerment in Arab countries but also in concern for the progression of Arab nations in space exploration. The Arab world is advancing its international image with innovation, technology, and equal opportunity.
What is Axiom Space?
Axiom Space Inc. is a remarkable corporation that aims to build and construct the world’s first commercial space station. This space station will be known as the Axiom Station and would be considered the successor to the International Space Station (ISS).
Axiom Space has participated in almost every ISS mission since NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA launched the program in 1998.
Astronauts from the United States, Spain, Canada, and Israel took up the first Axiom Space Mission in April 2022. Better known as Ax-1, the Axiom Mission 1 was the first privately funded crew of astronauts to set foot on the ISS on April 8th. The second-ever private astronaut crew, including the exceptional Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi, is set to reach the ISS this year.
Axiom Space has solidified itself as the future of commercial space travel and the successor of the ISS as the next up-and-coming space station. As you can see in the diagram above, the Axiom Space Station project is set to begin in 2024 and is projected to be accomplished by 2028-2031.
Ax-2 will be set in stone as one of the most historically significant launches of 2023 and likely the decade due to its commercial and private potential. The move towards commercial space travel will be a bridge for more investment and national funding to flow into space engineering and will inevitably transfer into more cohesive and constructive space exploration in the coming decades.
Saudi Arabia and UAE in space:
In 2023, UAE and Saudi Arabia are already off to an emphatic start in space exploration. UAE has sent its astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi, along with other NASA astronauts and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev as of March 2nd, to the ISS, where all the astronauts will participate in a six-month mission.
And, of course, Saudi Arabia will contribute to the race to space through their gender-balanced team of astronauts soon to be launched into space in May 2023.
Both countries are making bold and notable moves as UAE’s Sultan Al Neyadi will hold the most extended trip in space for an Arab astronaut, and Saudi Arabia’s Rayyanah Barnawi will be the first female Saudi Arabian woman to launch into space and land on the ISS.
Rayyanah Barnawi will be one of two mission specialists aboard the Axiom Mission 2. Her background is of much interest as it is not the typical resume of an astronaut; however, it displays significant prestige.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and moved on to get a master’s degree in biomedical sciences, where she studied the adhesion of breast cancer stem cells. On top of these degrees, she has over nine years of cancer stem cell research experience.
As a part of the upcoming mission, she will conduct experiments in her related field and hopes to acquire valuable data for cancer research.
Notably, she and Ali AlQarni, the other mission specialist on Ax-2, will not only count as a Saudi Arabian astronaut team with the first Saudi woman astronaut, but they will also count as the first Saudi astronauts to ever travel to the ISS and also just the second and third individuals from Saudi Arabia ever to reach space. The first Arab, Muslim, and Saudi citizen to ever get to the final frontier was Sultan bin Salman Al Saud who was aboard the STS-51-G mission in 1985. This year, two more Saudi citizens will make the expedition.
Rayyanah Barnawi’s participation in the mission and her necessity as a qualified and significant mission specialist in Ax-2 is essential for women’s empowerment in the Arab world and happens to come at a critical time during women’s history month. Women in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world can see this milestone as an achievement and a long-standing goal that has now been accomplished.
The Arab world is slowly but surely starting to prove its dedication to productive global competition in innovation and technology while ensuring its commitment to pushing back against stereotypes regarding women in Arab culture and prejudice concerning Arab culture in general. In a larger sense, the Arab world is gaining valuable influence daily by projecting equity in opportunity and ambition toward valuable research and exploration.
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